The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade started in 1924 and is tied with Detroit’s Thanksgiving Parade for the second oldest Thanksgiving parade in the United States. The oldest parade is four years older and is held in Philadelphia. The Macy’s parade was suspended 1942–1944 during World War II, owing to the need for rubber and helium in the war effort.
In the early years, the Macy’s Parade featured Macy’s employees and animals from the Central Park Zoo. At the end of that first parade, as has been the case with every parade since, Santa Claus was welcomed into Herald Square, kicking off the holiday season.
An air filled Felix the Cat balloon replaced the live animals in 1927. By the next year, helium was used to fill the expanding cast of balloons. The first Mickey Mouse balloon entered the parade in 1934, and the Marx Brothers balloon was debuted in 1935. The Uncle Sam balloon in 1938 was followed by the 1939 arrival of the first version of the Super Man balloon.1972 saw the arrival of Astronaut Snoopy, a tribute to Apollo 11, and Garfield arrived in 1984. Bugs Bunny arrived in 1989 and Barney the Dinosaur arrived in 1994. 2004 brought SpongBob SquarePants and 2007 brought Shrek. New arrivals for 2011 are a new version of Sonic the Hedgehog, Julius, and Tim Burton’s B.
The Parade features live performances as well as the balloons and floats that are so famous. The Radio City Rockettes are a classic performance, as are high school marching bands, cheerleaders, and dancers from all over the country. This year’s performances include Rodney Atkins, the Big Apple Circus, Mary J. Blige, Neil Diamond, and the Sesame Street cast.
Broadway show performers also appear in the Parade every year. This year, you can expect performances from Spider Man: Turn off the Dark, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and Sister Act.
The 1947 film, Miracle on 34th Street, features footage from the 1946 parade and helped make the parade a permanent part of American culture.
More than 3 million people watch the parade in person and another 50 million watch it on NBC. The three-hour event starts at 9:00 a.m. To watch it in person, there are 2 miles of curbside viewing along Central Park West, Central Park South, 7th Avenue between 59th and 48th Streets, and 6th Avenue between 42nd and 34th streets.
For some people, the day before the parade is just as much fun. Balloons are inflated the day before the parade on 77th and 81st Streets between Central park West and Columbus Avenue. Public viewing is from 3pm-10 pm.
Tips for seeing the parade can be found here.